By Sadaf Siddique/Dawn
Mom is the latest addition to the recent spate of sexual assault revenge sagas such as Pink, Anaarkali of Aarah and Maatr.
As the title suggests, and make no mistake, this is a Sridevi film, one that focuses on her as the central protagonist and effectively showcases her range of talent.
Despite the domestic tensions between Arya (Sajal Ali) and her step-mom Devaki (Sridevi), Arya lives a charmed life – she has a teenage crush, a doting dad and a weekend party that she’ll attend with her friends. But all that changes in an instant. In an allusion to the 2012 Delhi rape case, Arya is gang-raped in a moving car and left for dead. She survives, but in her place is a hollow shadow of a girl, fighting for life, afraid of light and even a kind touch.
Thrust into this nightmare, her parents Anand (Adnan Siddiqui) and Devaki struggle to get justice for their daughter – each in their own way. While the premise begs for some suspension of disbelief, it is the riveting performances that hold the narrative together despite its flaws. Scenes go on for too long and lose their impact, and psychological scars of the rape victim and how her family copes are skated over. But then again, this is not their story.
Sridevi is nothing short of spectacular and it really makes you realise to what extent Bollywood is awash in mediocre talent. Her control over her gestures, intensity and vulnerability perfectly match her talented co-stars. It is a pleasure to see Sajal Ali and Adnan Siddiqui hold their own alongside her.
Awakened by her need for vigilante justice, sets out on a path less travelled.
Director Ravi Udyawar creates detailed frames with camera angles, props – overflowing water bottles, insidious masala grinders, the eerily disturbing image of a car driving on lonely streets – and colours that take on significance as the story progresses.
He also relies on the power of suggestion to suss out a character’s motivation and propel the plot – a sniff of a line of coke, curtains pulled shut, and a near fatal crash leading Devaki to the realization that even a lone avenger needs a side kick.
Here Devaki’s sidekick takes on the delightful shape of an uncanny, family-loving detective DK (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Siddiqui takes to his character with relish and the rich images of his family life and a loving glance at his daughter are all we need to understand why he agrees to help Devaki pull off some unbelievable situations.
Sajal Ali, one of our talented and perennially youthful looking actress, has often been seen in a range of roles. She also had experience with similar roles as the victim of sexual assault in Chup Raho as well as one of marital rape in Gul-e-Rana.
While in these she had to bow down to traditions, at least in Mom, she voices the pain of a rape victim. Ali gives a fine tuned and sensitive performance from helplessness and heartbreak and to finally, healing and acceptance.
Adnan Siddiqui who also has graced our TV (most recently in Sammi) and silver (A Mighty Heart, Yalgaar) screens unfortunately has little to do but look handsome, which he does effortlessly. His guilt, and attempts to maintain poise and dignity are at the heart of his portrayal of the hurt and impotent rage of a father in this terrible ordeal. His paternal moments with Arya are lovely and tender and showcase the depth of their relationship without much need for dialogue.
Stellar performances by Akshaye Khanna, Abhimanyu Singh and the entire supporting cast round out the film- there is not one character who is out of place. Other production houses and directors with firmer backbones should take note on how to put talent ahead of chiseled mid-riffs and nationality.
Interestingly, Mom also gives us a glimpse of many Indians. From the immaculate homes of the rich, to Delhi’s underbelly of subways and metros, Daryaganj’s jumble of shops and overhead electric wiring, low and middle-income living rooms, drug-fueled farm house parties, sepia-tinted claustrophobic court rooms, to Arya and Anand’s eloquent Hindi/Urdu clashing with Devaki’s Tamil inflected speech all intersect with the realities of a diverse India.
Within this also emerge disturbing acts of violence – of greed and lust, of showing women and minorities their right place, and where even privilege and power aren’t enough to get justice.
Mom ends with an undeniably cathartic resolution – if courts and laws can’t give us justice, at least our films can.
But as a mirror to the times we live in with political vigilantes on the loose, taking the law and lives into their own hands, you can’t help but wonder if this message skews in their favor.
(The featured image at the top shows Sajal Ali, Adnan Siddique and Sridevi in Mom)